Saint of the day 20141122

22 November SAINT CECILIA Virgin and Martyr(† 230)        

In the evening of her wedding-day, with the music of the marriage-hymn ringing in her ears, Cecilia, a rich, beautiful, and noble Roman maiden, renewed the vow by which she had consecrated her virginity to God. “Pure be my heart and undefiled my flesh; for I have a spouse you know not of—an angel of my Lord.”        

The heart of her young husband Valerian was moved by her words; he ‘received Baptism, and within a few days he and his brother Tiburtius, who had been brought by him to a knowledge of the Faith, sealed their confession with their blood. Cecilia only remained. “Do you not know,” was her answer to the threats of the prefect, “that I am the bride of my Lord Jesus Christ?” The death appointed for her was suffocation, and she remained a day and a night in a hot-air bath, heated seven times its wont. But “the flames had no power over her body, neither was a hair of her head singed.” The lictor sent to dispatch her struck with trembling hand the three blows which the law allowed, and left her still alive. For two days and nights Cecilia lay with her head, half severed on the pavement of her bath, fully sensible, and joyfully awaiting her crown; on the third the agony was over, and in 177 the virgin Saint gave back her pure spirit to Christ. Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. [1894] St CeciliaDevotion to St Cecilia, in whose honour a basilica was constructed in Rome in the fifth century, has spread far and wide because of the Passion of Saint Cecilia, which holds her up as a perfect example of a Christian woman, who embraced virginity and suffered martyrdom for the love of Christ.   As with early martyrs, nothing much is known about Cecilia except her existence and her name; with the additional complication that so many stories have grown up round her that any remaining historical facts are obscured. No-one knows quite why she should suddenly have become popular in the middle of the sixth century, some 200 years after her death, and her association with music is also a mystery. It may be real, or it may come from the description in the Passion of Cecilia singing to God “in her heart” while the musicians were playing on her wedding day, or it may come from a linguistic confusion: where the Passion describes her being stifled to death candentibus organis, “with the pipes glowing red-hot,” this could have been misread as cantantibus organis, “with the organ playing.”

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